Thursday, June 12, 2014

Books that talk

photo credit: Kristin Bradley's Flickr photostream
By Julie

I was chatting with a friend I talk to online nearly every day, another recently published author who's working on the next book. We often compare notes about the business, about news we've heard lately, about who's doing what where, how a book seems to be doing, etc. In the midst of our conversation, I said something about a book that didn't necessarily catch my attention, but had done very well. I said, "Even if it didn't speak to me, it apparently spoke to a lot of people!"

And then, my friend said ...

"That's what we want. Books that talk!"

I laughed, but then I asked her permission to use that phrase in my blog post. It seemed pretty genius. What are people looking for when they pick a novel to read? Or a novel to represent or purchase if they are an agent or an editor?

Books that talk. 

What does that mean? I think maybe a few things.

1) As I already said, it's a book that speaks to readers. That's a fuzzy term, but I think it means readers feel the story had something in it for them beyond just an entertaining interlude. Not just a way to escape for a few hours, but a means to feeling:

  • Understood
  • Moved
  • Provoked
  • Inspired
  • _____? (What else?)

An obvious example these days is The Fault in our Stars by John Green. I don't even have to explain that one to you. It has obviously spoken to a lot of people, young adults and older adults alike.

2) It's a bit of a ventriloquist. It makes people want to talk. They are so moved or provoked or inspired that they have to tell someone else about it.

For me, last year that was Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell. I mean, I obviously can't even stop talking about it here on the blog! Others I've heard mentioned again and again at book clubs I attended over the last year are Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

3) It doesn't just talk. It has legs. It gets the attention of more than just a small segment of society, and frequently jumps borders when it comes to target audience. It's a YA book that adults like. A sci-fi book that readers of mysteries enjoy. It has movement. It catches on. It's the right book for the right time. It's ...

The Hunger Games

Here's something to think about, though. Just because a book talks, does it necessarily have a big mouth? I think certain books described as "quiet" have also met each of these criteria and sold very well. A few I can think of right off hand:

Major Pettigrew's Last Stand by Helen Simonson
Olive Kitteredge by Elizabeth Strout

What else do you think makes a book talk? What book talked to you lately?

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Julie. Novels that really impact me have an engaging story, pack an emotional punch, and are beautifully written. A recent favorite: The Art of Falling, by Kathryn Craft.


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